It’s a sad fact of life that writers often lose a little of their wonder when reading. “Hmm, I wonder why the writer said it that way,” we think. Or, “No, I would have split that paragraph up and inserted the information between dialogues.” But read we must, because we’re writers and, basically, besides writing, that’s what we do.
Late last year, a submission call went out for stories from the SFR Brigade, and the submissions culminated in TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE, recently released through Smashwords. (I hear it’s also coming out on Amazon but it’s the Smash edition that I downloaded, Amazon obviously considering me too Third World illiterate to be allowed to buy ebooks from their precious website. Ahem. Anyway. Moving right along….) This free ebook contains eight stories and each of them is a delight.
Imprint (Pippa Jay). I’m no stranger to Pippa’s work, having been the narrator of at least one of her stories, and she’s an author I always enjoy reading. The action starts from the first paragraph, grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go till the end, as Jiona Sax–fearless thief and manipulator of crime gangs–evades delicious Marshal, Tevik, strongman Gutu and the evil crimelord, Vaz Del. When her machinations catch up with her, as you know they must, the action still takes an unexpected tack that had me blinking in surprise. My only criticism of this story is that the surprise at the end isn’t explained as completely as I’d like but, then again, I’m a particularly pernickety reader. Criminal.
Allure (Amy Laurens) reminds me that emotion is as much a part of SFR as the technology. I enjoyed that it was set in Australia, where the Christmases are dry and searing. It made a welcome change to the usual snow-and-conifers I usually read about. The “trump card” that the humans hold against the Alphs on a planet far away is logical and I liked the reasoning a lot. I just wish the story could have been a little longer to encompass a bit more of the human-Alph backstory. Military.
Nobody’s Present (Marcella Burnard). Oh boy, I think I’ve just found my next gotta-read author. Burnard puts the tech and the romance together so well, I was grinning all over the place. What can sassy high-school physics teacher, Finlay Selkirk (a little too strident at the start for me, but she soon settles down), show a bunch of spacefaring aliens? Read this story and find out. Having two protagonists who’ve faced loss adds an additional, mature dimension to the dynamic that I really appreciated. My only comment is that I liked Orlan Grisham and thought he got a bum deal in the sentence that first described him. Military.
The Stranger (Kyndra Hatch). So damned short!! Beautiful and emotional, Hatch’s story describes two humans caught at the devastating tail-end of the Human-Skellyd war…a war that didn’t go well for the humans. Amid the tangible destruction, there is such heart-rending loss, and The Stranger focuses on one such tale. Loss, tragedy, a desperate search for happiness and a risk of trust, but still too damned short! Military.
Mission: Nam Selan (Linnea Sinclair). As Sinclair says at the start, this story is set in her Alliance Command universe, and features perennially favourite protagonists, Branden Kel-Paten and Tasha Sebastian. Very much like Jay’s and Burnard’s stories, the action begins with a bang and doesn’t let up till the end. Along the way, we’re introduced to raffish pirate, Dag Zanorian, Sebastian’s furzel, Tank, and a very interesting political situation. It is testament to Sinclair’s writing that, even though I’m not familiar with her Alliance Command universe, at no time did the plot become muddled in any way. A lovely space opera vignette. Military.
Prime Sensations (Liana Brooks). Lana was left for dead three years ago on a planet under heavy enemy fire. When the story begins, she is working off her ransom on an enemy (Ilona) waste hauler. When a strike team infiltrates the hauler, expecting someone else, she is brought face to face with Kaleb, the man who–she thinks–never came to rescue her. With a sense of betrayal now seared into her bones, is she willing to give Kaleb a second chance? I liked this story which is set in a very detail-rich universe, but would have appreciated a few more details on the Nova Crystals, Kaleb’s father and the Adrian Situation (that’s all I’m going to say about it). Military.
Envy’s Revenge (Berinn Rae). Kudos to Ms. Rae for the innovative setting of a swamp for her story. Living in Malaysia at the moment means I’m well acquainted with rampant greenery, high humidity and a scary variety of biting insects, so huzzah! Nolyra lives in a bleak future where humanity has been decimated by an exceedingly probable set of circumstances. Men are brutal, women are prized only for their ability to bear children and Envy, hiding out in the swamp, has her hands full keeping her territory clear of scuffers (and worse). When a stranger arrives in her swamp, not taking no for an answer, Envy is forced to see the enemy in a new way. Can she adjust to this new way of thinking? I loved immersing myself in Envy’s world, could almost breathe in the moisture-laden air myself but felt the ending was too hurried with not enough foreshadowing. But an evocative and rich setting. I’d love to read more of this world. Post-apocalyptic.
Whiskey and Starshine (Erica Hayes) is the last story in the anthology. A space western featuring, not just the whore with the heart of gold (Allie Rose) but also a chip in her head, and a scarred bad-boy-turned good, Raine Jericho. I’m not a fan of space westerns but this one was full of heart and it won me over. The ending was more than satisfying and made me smile. Western.
An anthology is nothing without its editors and Laurie Green, Paula Dooley and JC Cassels did a terrific job, as did the copy editors, Laurel Kriegler, Cary Caffrey, Danielle Cassels and Patty Hammond. The book was flawless.
As you can see from my small tail-end summaries, the anthology is skewed to the military side, which is okay, but I’m really no fan of the military (despite coming from one such family) and I look forward to seeing more SFR in non-military settings. Many of these stories could easily have been expanded into very fine novels and I found myself caught by wanting to reach the story’s resolution and yet also wanting more details of the universe I was reading in. Aaaargh! In conclusion, if TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE was meant to whet my appetite by showcasing a variety of fine SFR writers, it succeeded admirably.
RATING: Highly recommended. 4 out of 5 stars